Capsule Review: folklore

A few thoughts about Taylor Swift’s surprise album, folklore.

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Surprise! Props to you if you had “Taylor Swift releases surprise folk album” on your COVID bingo board. Swift releasing an album so quickly, only 11 months after the release of her last one, is a pretty startling thing to do for such a high profile artist so previously devoted to the idea of an “album release cycle.” Props to her for a number of reasons with this one, not only for being unbelievably productive during the pandemic (production on this only started in April), but also for not being afraid to completely shift gears (yet again) into something no one really expected: an indie artist.

Ballads on ballads: folklore is an album full of low key, downtempo tracks written during the pandemic. With the majority of the tracks produced by The National’s Aaron Dessner (and the rest produced by Jack Antonoff), the easiest thing to say is that most of the album sounds like Taylor Swift fronting the National, while the Antonoff produced tracks sound like they wouldn’t feel out of place as ballads on her most recent work. Through my first couple of listens, I’m drawn to the Bon Iver collaboration “exile,” the shimmering “mirrorball,” and the melancholic “august.” But, obviously, it’s still early – it will take a long time to digest all of this and unravel all the character narratives and references that Swift has stuffed in here.

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“Brevity is the soul of wit”: Truth be told, folklore is a tough album to criticize from a musical perspective because of it’s overwhelmingly downbeat nature. There’s no shiny production, no anthemic pop hooks – just Swift, an acoustic guitar, piano, and some soft synths. You could show this album to just about anyone, and you’d be hard pressed to find someone who was offended by anything about it musically.

While it’s still early, the biggest thing I have to fault about folklore is it’s long running time. For a collection of songs such as this, some brevity may have gone a long way in helping the songs here sink in and feel a little more important. From a sonic perspective, this is an album that doesn’t diverge much from the path, but, with a running time that easily exceeds an hour, it makes an album full of ballads drag. Unfortunately, this is a problem that I’ve had with nearly every Taylor Swift release thusfar. My personal opinion is that an album of about 10-12 tracks would have been more than enough.

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T-swizzle is fucking swearing now: Watch out world, Taylor Swift is using profanities in her lyrics now. You may be stunned to know that there’s an explicit tag on five songs on here, including on the first line on the first track on the album. She has sworn on a track before, but it’s nice to see Swift tastefully using “fuck” or “shit.” Let’s call it long overdue artistic growth.

Where’s Kanye?: It was shaping up to be yet another chapter in the eternal Swift vs. Kanye feud, with West announcing earlier in the week his newest album Donda was going to be released today as well. As of writing, Donda is still nowhere to be seen. Maybe Kanye altered his release plans when Taylor announced hers, or maybe this is just another example of Kanye promising music and then not following through. Regardless of the reason for the delay, for two artists who are forever intertwined, it’s interesting to see how much they’ve changed, and how much they contrast at this point in their careers.

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